When I asked Sinema whether she was worried about losing progressive voters with her centrist campaign, she answered, “I don’t at all.”
“Folks are so excited … that we’re attracting support from Democrats, Republicans, and independents,” she said. “In Arizona, folks don’t really care what letter is behind your name. They just want you to deliver real results for them, because we’re super practical and we’re very pragmatic people.”
Sinema wasn’t always so militantly centrist; in fact, quite the opposite. In the early 2000s, she was an outspoken Iraq War protester and Green Party supporter. She wore tutus to rallies and called herself a “Prada socialist,” joking about her lefty politics and love of fashion. In a recent debate, McSally accused her of “treason” based on a 2003 radio interview, in which Sinema seemed to say she didn’t care if Americans went overseas and fought with the Taliban. Her political opponents have pushed out clips of her speaking at progressive conferences like Netroots Nation, where she described Arizona as “the meth lab of democracy” (a line apparently cribbed from The Daily Show), or another where she called both her state and Republicans “crazy.”
[Read: John McCain and the lost art of decency]
Today, however, Sinema portrays herself in the mold of John McCain, whose recent funeral was a lament to the death of statesmanship, or Jeff Flake, the retiring Arizona senator who publicly fretted over the divisiveness of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. “What’s wrong with Washington, D.C., is that people have chosen to take partisan positions rather than just doing what’s right for their community and for their state and for their country,” she told a group of supporters in Yuma. “We should be electing responsible people who are willing to engage in a bipartisan relationship, regardless of the issue.”
Sinema worked rooms full of supporters at campaign events in Yuma with a mix of inoffensive banter and studied earnestness, eagerly taking notes and performing her role as state encyclopedist as she shared facts about Arizona’s cotton industry and health-care structure. She confessed, with a hint of pride, to criticizing leadership in both parties for their partisanship: This summer, she told Politico she wouldn’t vote for Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate if she were elected. For Sinema, it’s probably also a source of satisfaction that she has voted with Trump’s agenda 62 percent of the time, according to an estimate by FiveThirtyEight, including on bills like Kate’s Law, which would increase the maximum jail time for immigrants who reenter the country after being deported or committing crimes.
For some progressive Democrats in the state, however, Sinema’s centrism is unsatisfying.
“I’m baffled why she hasn’t come out in support of David Garcia,” said Julie Gunnigle, a Democrat from Scottsdale running for the state House, at the ASU rally. “I just don’t believe Sinema is that progressive.” Gunnigle wants Sinema to be elected, but “there are things I’d like to hear come out of her mouth,” she said, including support for “Medicare for all” and campaign-finance reform. Zaira Livier, a progressive activist I met in Tucson, went further: “I’ve been trolling the hell out of Democrats online,” she said. “One of my posts was like, ‘I’m not voting for Kyrsten Sinema. Die mad about it.’”